Skip header content and main navigation Binghamton University, State University of New York - Experiential Ed

Getting the most from your internship

Planning ahead and setting some goals for yourself and your internship are good places to begin before starting your placement. But remember -- maintaining flexibility and perspective are also important -- the ability to "roll with the punches" can help open doors to new learning opportunities. In other words, you may need to modify your expectations as the internship matures. It is important to be able to rethink your expectations. In order to help you define your goals, OCC has prepared a questionnaire for you to complete about your objectives for gaining knowledge during the internship. This should be completed during the orientation session at the beginning of the semester.

It is important for you to understand ahead of time what it is that you hope to gain from your internship. Do you wish to learn specific pre-professional skills? better understand the demography of potential clients? learn office procedures? learn if you can work with people different from yourself? practice something you have learned?


Your faculty person will be assigning academic work that you need to make complementary to your internship experience. So much of what interns do is contingent on the particular circumstances of the individual placement--the relationship of intern to supervisor, time of year, projects available, etc. Faculty are less concerned with your daily tasks than you and your site supervisor are. What faculty want to see is synthesis of your liberal arts background.

What do the faculty expect from students?

How to use the academic component to your advantage

Most professions have publications, professional societies, and a body of theoretical knowledge under which they operate. You should use part of your time to become familiar with "what is out there" for your field of interest. Virtually every subject you can imagine has "a literature" or is developing one. Engage the information age -- use the library and/or NETWORK with the people in your agency, your faculty, and your peers to find out what is read to keep in tune with the profession. Professional organizations are good places for basic information. Your faculty person may not know precisely the nature or context of the professional literature. You will need to use your research skills to discover ways to make your academic work relevant to your internship.

Faculty expects students to begin to synthesize the theoretical areas of the liberal arts education with the practical education in the internship; but the fact is no one can make that synthesis, that connection, for you. No one can tell you precisely what that connection might be. Very often it is a way of defining or modeling a problem - a way of thinking or a specific approach that is helpful. Being able to locate materials and information is critical to success.

If you are doing a research/paper topic, here are some tips:

The ideal internship project is preparing something concrete that the agency can use. Several art students have done significant portions of their portfolios while designing products for their internship sites. Journalism, public relations, history, and museum interns are usually fortunate in this regard. Pre-med, pre-law, and psychology interns are usually engaged in client centered activities. Information/data of this type are often not readily available to students for research purposes, but there is potential here for mature students to engage in sophisticated analysis.

REMEMBER the agency does not directly grade you (they do fill out two evaluations that faculty MAY use in assessing your grade). Your final evaluation and grade rests with your faculty mentor. (However, this does not give you license to take liberties at your agency). If you are tactful and observant, you can afford a pretty critical (not in the negative sense) analysis of the place you are in. An intern has a lot more freedom in this regard than a regular employee would have. Again, this does not mean you sit on your hands and watch; you are supposed to be working; but you do not have to love everything. Try to compare your experiences at the internship to ideas you have learned in class. Resume building, and career experience are side benefits to your internship, from the faculty perspective; and you should understand this as a basic operating principle. Applying critical thinking to practical situations is desirable, in any event. ALSO, part of your "Experience" is getting help from people when you need it.

ALSO, part of your "Experience" is getting help from people when you need it. Please talk to your faculty mentor, your site supervisor, and the OCC staff. We want you to join the other students who have told us that their OCC internship was the best part of their undergraduate experience.


It is important to remember that not every student at the same agency enjoys equal success. Sometimes complete success is outside of the student's control. Therefore, try to exert control over what you legitimately can.

Successful interns seem to use these strategies to improve their chances for a strong internship experience:

  1. They learn who everyone is in the agency setting. Who reports to whom? Who is most interested in seeing that students learn something from their internship? Who can change things?
  2. They seek prompt resolution to conflict and clarify expectations others have of them. They seek to define their own role at the agency.
  3. They have realistic learning objectives that match what the site can do for them. They do not expect to do things they are not trained for.
  4. They develop positive relationships with peers and supervisors at the work site through open and frank communications.
  5. They use the academic experience to complement site experience.
    • Working with other people can be a challenge.
    • You do not have to like everybody you work with.
    • You DO have to behave professionally towards them.
    • Please ask for assistance if you need it.


Although grievance may be too strong a term in many cases, students should actively seek to resolve any difficulties involving an internship as quickly as possible. Minor problems can get out of hand quickly. Also, there is a limited amount of time in one semester--quick resolution is important to a successful internship.

All of us are sensitive to the fact that managing conflict is not equally easy for everybody. Therefore, the University has mandated that specific procedures for handling problems and conflicts between students and others be outlined by each department or program (OCC's policy is available upon request).

In general, before you involve someone else, you should attempt to resolve the situation by first speaking to the person with whom you are having difficulties. However, sometimes assistance is required in negotiating relationships that are essentially of unequal power. You may wish to seek this informal assistance before speaking to the person with whom you are having a problem. Remember, you will not begin to resolve a problem unless you speak to people who have the experience and authority to help you. Complaining to other students or co-workers is rarely productive.


The professional staff of OCC is available to help you negotiate solutions to problems you may encounter as an intern. We encourage you to follow procedures and practice professional behavior when seeking to resolve problems. Please get assistance if you are having difficulties.


There are types of conflict in any situation that can be described as interpersonal rather than directly job related. Some of these behaviors might include discriminatory practices, blatant or subtle. Sometimes they are based on a person's race or sex. Sometimes this behavior is caused or aggravated by mixed signals. Direct and open communication can assist. Do not assume that you understand what someone is trying to tell you if you are feeling uncertain. Also do not discount your feelings, but do try to understand them and analyze your situation.


The success of any internship experience depends mainly on you. Learning to learn from life is part of the process of becoming an educated person.

We wish you to have a great learning experience.

Connect with Binghamton:
Twitter icon links to Binghamton University's Twitter page YouTube icon links to Binghamton University's YouTube page Facebook icon links to Binghamton University's Facebook page Instagram

Last Updated: 7/15/09